Young children wielding smartphones and tablet computers may be a familiar sight in Singapore, but early childhood experts yesterday cautioned parents to go slow on letting them use such devices.
They say parent-child interaction is especially crucial to a child's development in the first three years and cannot be replaced by technology such as smartphones, tablets or television.
Speaking at the second The Straits Times Education Forum, paediatrician Dana Suskind cited a study by University of Washington neuroscientist Patricia Kuhl in which two groups of American babies were exposed to Mandarin.
After some time, the first group, which was exposed to the language through Mandarin speakers, was able to pick up on phonetic elements of the language.
The second group was exposed to the same Mandarin material through a recorded tape. This time, the babies could not distinguish the phonetic units of the language.
"You learn something much better with a human being who is responding," said Dr Suskind.
She was responding to a mother of three young boys, who had asked if there were merits to children engaging in non-social play using technological tools.
The mother, who had recently moved here from Australia, said she had noticed many young children here using smart devices.
Other forum speakers included Dr Stuart Brown, a consulting professor at Stanford University who founded the National Institute for Play in California, and Mrs Carmee Lim, mentor principal of mind development institute MindChamps Holdings.
This year's forum focused on early childhood development. About 400 parents, pre-school educators and operators attended the event at Raffles City Convention Centre.
The event was sponsored by philanthropic organisation Lien Foundation, with POSB Bank as a partner.
Dr Brown, who studied how free play affects early childhood development, said: "I'm concerned when I see kids not engaged with their parents, not engaged with their peers and not making eye contact."
Accounts officer Reynette Wee, 43, who has two boys aged six and seven, said she tries to limit her children's iPad usage. "But it can be tempting to give in, especially when we are busy with chores.
"My older son sometimes refuses to feed himself and asks that I feed him while he uses the iPad. It's behaviour that I don't encourage."
Housewife Teng Meng Hwee, 42, makes an effort to not let her two-year-old son use her smartphone.
She said: "I've read about the negative impact of such devices on young children.
"I hope to interest him in other things first since he will eventually start using these devices as he gets older."